Among the state-of-the art super cars that were displayed at the Tokyo Motor Show this year, one super car caught attention for a very unique reason. This vehicle was no ordinary car but a wooden car!
Or more accurately one made of a new material is made out of wood, which was five times stronger than steel and one-fifth the weight of steel. This new material known by the name of “cellulose nanofiber”—derived mainly from trees—may very well become a viable alternative to steel in the decades ahead.
The inventive Nano Cellulose Vehicle that was exhibited at the show incorporated cellulose nanofiber in its hood and back-window. Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi who was present at the Motor Show, couldn’t resist commenting when he had a go at lifting the car’s hood. “It was the first time I lifted an automobile hood with only one hand!” he exclaimed. “Japan is a country full of trees, so I see a huge potential here.”
By using cellulose nanofibers, the weight of the car can be reduced 20 percent,” explained Kyoto University Professor Hiroyuki Yano, who is leading the research on cellulose nanofibers. “Also, the car’s fuel efficiency is raised 10 percent so it also contributes to reducing CO2.”
Cellulose is known as the main ingredient of plant fibers, but how is it processed into cellulose nanofiber? Very thin fibers found in plants such as trees is derived to make wooden chips that are processed and made into wood pulp fibers. It’s not very strong as it is, so special chemicals are added to increase its density. The result is a fiber that is five times stronger than steel and one-fifth the weight of steel.
However, the fact that it’s light and strong is not all that this new material has to offer. Cellulose nanofiber is also extremely eco-friendly.
“Cellulose nanofiber is found abundantly in trees, but in fact it can also be found in a variety of plants including bamboo, rice straw, water weed, cucumber and lettuce,” said Yano. “When we produce cellulose nanofibers, they absorb CO2 in the atmosphere. In addition, the material can be decomposed and recycled when they are discarded. They also produce energy when burned. As you can see, this material is a natural ingredient from top to bottom!”
Yano has spent nearly 40 years researching cellulose nanofiber in his lab surrounded by trees at Uji Campus of Kyoto University. His research still continues.
“The 20th Century depended on making things from petroleum resources, but in the 21st Century we need to turn to sustainable plant resources,” said Yano. “We need to turn vegetarian not only in what we eat, but also in what we create.”
Yano is thinking of incorporating cellulose nanofiber in aircraft parts as well in the future. Who knows? Wooden cars and wooden aircrafts might become nothing unusual in a few decades time.
(This article was originally published on Zenbird Media.)